Edwin Land was a brilliant inventor, sometimes described today as the Steve Jobs of his time. He was capable of seeing new possibilities—at times coming to him as detailed, fully-formed visions—that others could not begin to imagine. Yet even Land couldn’t see the life-changing opportunity he held in his own hands on a sunny winter’s day in 1943. Rather, a precocious question from a three-year-old suddenly brought the future into focus.
At the time, Land was on vacation with his family in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He had taken some photographs of his young daughter Jennifer, using his favorite camera. Of course, in those days, film had to be taken to a darkroom or a processing lab for development; Land knew this to be a given at the time, as did any adult. But young Jennifer had a different take. She wanted to know, and so asked her father, why they couldn’t see the picture he had just taken without having to wait.
Land found he had no good answer for her. And he took this as a challenge, or as he described it, a “puzzle she had set for me.”
“Stimulated by the dangerously invigorating plateau air,” Land recalled in a speech years later, “I thought, ‘Why not? Why not design a picture that can be developed right away?’”
It took Land five more years to do it but eventually he answered his daughter’s question—in the form of the Polaroid Instant camera.